The massive recall of baby slings announced March 24 made me glad I could never figure out how to use one.
Worn diagonally over one shoulder a la a messenger bag, the slings looked cool and promised what every new mother covets: a blissful baby, parent-child bonding and a free pair of hands for mom. Yet try as I might, I couldn't relax as I watched my newborn disappear into the voluminous folds of fabric. Was he so scrunched up it was hurting his neck? Could he breathe okay in there? I was also simultaneously worried he was about to slide out, so I always kept a hand on him. And if I had to do that, what was the point? There is a picture of us, when he was a few months old, his head lolling to the side, asleep in the sling awkwardly draped across my chest; I am smiling nervously. I think I returned that purchase the next day.
Now comes the announcement that baby-products manufacturer Infantino is recalling more than 1 million "SlingRider" and "Wendy Bellissimo" slings in the U.S. and 15,000 in Canada because of concerns they're linked to three infant deaths reported in 2009. Earlier in March, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cautioned parents about using slings with babies under 4 months or those born prematurely or having trouble breathing (what baby doesn't catch colds frequently?) as it investigates at least 14 deaths over two decades.
News of the Infantino recall is further stratifying moms into two camps: sling-wearers and those who just don't get the whole sling thing. The decision to use a baby carrier or merely to carry the baby is a lifestyle choice, and baby-wearers fiercely defend their baby-transport method of choice. For many moms, it's a personal statement. Sling aficionados insist they're safe as long as you pick a good one, follow the instructions and constantly check your baby's position. This piece of baby gear is frequently used by a certain type of parent: If you like slings, you just might be a co-sleeper who shuns cribs in favor of plunking the baby in the bed. You're probably a fan of "attachment parenting", which encourages skin-to-skin contact (think breastfeeding and baby massage) and "wearing" your baby.
I, and many of my contemporaries, fall squarely in the middle: no baby in the bed; yes to breastfeeding. Baby massage like slings sounded good, but my kids always squirmed away.
I tried a variety of baby carriers before I hit on one that made me feel comfortable. After the sling, I turned to the ubiquitous Baby Bjorns, which strap baby in an upright position to your chest. That worked well but didn't inspire overwhelming confidence when it too was recalled at one point because newborns could slip through the leg holes (which have since been redesigned). Eventually, a friend gave me her old ERGObaby Carrier, which has been growing in popularity and hipness quotient in the past couple of years. Its myriad adjustments (side, back, front, with merely a tug here and a twist there) still remain a mystery to me. But with its sturdy canvas cloth and multiple buckles, it feels more substantial. I used it as recently as last weekend, tucking my 2-year-old inside as I hiked up a mountain.
I noticed that as part of the recall, Infantino is offering to replace its recalled slings with a "Wrap & Tie" infant carrier that looks a lot like an ERGO minus the buckles. Consumers who are swearing off on-the-body baby carriers can opt for a 2-in-1 shopping cart/high chair cover or an ExerSaucer-esque activity gym. The press release notes that "a Jittery Pals Rattle will also be provided." If I were to offer a bit of unsolicited marketing advice, I'd highly recommend they rename that rattle, quick.